Why is feedback important?

Students want feedback

Students frequently state they want more feedback on their learning than what they are currently receiving. There is also a correlation between students’ perceptions of the amount of feedback they receive and how effective they think the course is overall (Naylor et al, 2014).

This student perception of the importance of feedback is supported by several meta-analyses, which concluded that feedback had more impact on student results than any other teaching strategy (The Australasian Society for Evidence Based Teaching, 2017; Jones & Blankenship, 2014).

Increased student satisfaction and improved outcomes

Providing the right feedback at the right time can lead not only to increased student satisfaction, but also improved learning outcomes for students (Naylor et al, 2014, referring to the work of Ramsden 2003; Hattie and Timperley 2007; Shute 2008).

Lastly, providing additional opportunities for feedback can boost overall engagement amongst postgraduate coursework students (Edwards, 2011).

What is feedback?

While feedback is inextricably linked to assessment, a broader view allows us to consider the concept of feedback in all learning contexts, and not just assessment tasks.

This interpretation of feedback presents it as not exclusively summative, but also formative, where any learning activity, task or event offers an opportunity to provide feedback on progress (Naylor et al, 2014). In fact, some educators suggest you should aim to provide feedback on each activity you do with students.

These opportunities contain the most potential for students to improve their learning, because this formative feedback on offer ‘feeds forward”, whereas summative feedback is by nature retrospective (Boud & Molloy, 2012; Cope & Kalantzis, 2014).

arrow pointing to left labelled 'summative feedback retrospective', arrow pointing to right labelled 'formative feedback feeds forward

Formative feedback

"In terms of benefit to learning, formative feedback is most important" (Naylor et al, 2014).

Formative feedback is more than just about evaluating a student with respect to a specific task. In essence, formative feedback helps students understand how they are doing while there is still time to do something about it (Naylor et al, 2017; The Australasian Society for Evidence Based Teaching, 2017).

Formative feedback is also more holistic in its approach and provides future-focused insight for students as to how they can improve in the areas they need to, not only in a specific unit of study but also in their course and, some suggest, even beyond university into the workplace and their everyday lives (Getzlaf et al, 2009).

Feedback as a mutual dialogue

Historically feedback was one-way

Traditionally in higher education, feedback was understood primarily to be a one-way process (transmissionist) from lecturer to student.

Recent thinking now encourages us to think about feedback as being a bilateral (involving two people) and multilateral (involving many people) process, “which positions students as active learners seeking to inform their own judgements through resort to [sic] information from various others” (Boud & Molloy, 2012).

Postgraduates appreciate two-way feedback

Postgraduate students consider effective feedback to be a mutual process, where they are consulted as to what type of feedback they need, as well as when and how that feedback be provided (Getzlaf et al, 2009).

Effective feedback also facilitates dialogue between the students and the lecturer around learning in the course, and provides the lecturer with insight into how to improve the learning and teaching of the unit both while it is being taught and also in the future. (Linskens, 2012; Cope & Kalantzis 2014; Jones & Blankenship, 2014).

illustration of cannon with feedback written on it
Source: Feedback Cannon, from feedbackforlearning.org licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Sources of feedback

Potential sources of feedback include:

sources of feedback, lecturer, tutor, expert, peers, self

(Source: Boud & Molloy, 2012; Cope & Kalantzis, 2014).

A wider understanding of where feedback can come from provides us with a greater number of feedback strategies, tools, techniques and channels to use in learning and teaching.

See Opportunities for feedback for feedback strategies.

Elements of good feedback

The literature offers the following characteristics of good practice in providing feedback, by suggesting that feedback be:


Feedback is offered soon after the learning event, at the mutually agreed time.


Feedback is encouraging, builds motivation and self-esteem, and is provided “in a way that does not demean the effort of learning” (Getzlaf et al, 2009)


Feedback is provided frequently and ideally on every learning activity.


Feedback helps students achieve their goals.


The feedback provides information about how the student has addressed the task.


The students can understand the feedback and make sense of it.


The feedback is applicable to future situations.


The feedback aims to address the student as an individual and is cognisant of their specific needs and where they are in their learning journey.


While technology has made it easier for us to provide students with more feedback more often, some suggest that in order for the feedback process to be sustainable, our ultimate aim should be to help students become self-regulated, self-determined and active learners (Boud & Molloy, 2012; Carless et al, 2011.) Phil Race suggests academics “consider the balance or payoff between feedback efficiency for us and learning payoff for students” (The Higher Education Academy, 2014).

Sources: Swan, 2003; Getzlaf et al, 2009; Douglas et al, 2006; Naylor et al, 2016, Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Cope and Kalantzis, 2014; Carless et al 2011.


In the following webinar recording, Associate Professor Michael Henderson (Monash University) and Associate Professor Phillip Dawson (Deakin University) provide a brief masterclass of feedback designs, and discuss current educator and student experiences of feedback and strategies to develop and support effective feedback designs. We particularly recommend the 20 min segment from 5:17-25:25.

Feedback for learning (2017)

You can also download the slides.


Boud, D., Molloy, E. (2012). Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38, 2013:6. Retrieved http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02602938.2012.691462

Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36:4. Retrieved http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075071003642449

Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. College of Education at Illinois. (2014). E-Learning Affordance 4a: Recursive Feedback [video]. Retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LOjul-kJyc

Douglas, T., Salter, S., Iglesias, M., Dowlman, M. & Eri, R. (2016). The feedback process: Perspectives of first and second-year undergraduate students in the disciplines of education, health science and nursing. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13:1. Retrieved http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1541&context=jutlp

Edwards, D. (2011). Monitoring risk and return: Critical insights into graduate coursework engagement and outcomes. Australasian Survey of Student Engagement Research Briefing, v.9. Retrieved https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=ausse

Getzlaf, B., Perry, B., Toffner, G., Lamarche, K. & Edwards, M. (2009). Effective Instructor Feedback: Perceptions of Online Graduate Students. Journal of Educators Online, 6:2:July 2009. Retrieved http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ904070.pdf

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, March 2007, 77,1. Retrieved http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/003465430298487

Jones, I. S., Blankenship, D. (2014). What do you mean you never got any feedback? Research in Higher Education Journal, 24: August 2014. Retrieved http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/141875.pdf

Linskens, J. (2012). Meaningful Feedback in the Online Learning Environment [presentation]. Northcentral University, Arizona. Retrieved https://www.slideshare.net/jalinskens67/meaningful-feedback-in-the-online-learning-environment

Naylor, R., Baik, C., Watty, K., & Asmar, C. (2014). Good Feedback Practices: Prompts and guidelines for reviewing and enhancing feedback for students. The Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne. Retrieved http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/1761164/Good_Feedback_Practices_2014.pdf

Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness: what the research tells us. In J. Bourne & J. C. Moore (Eds) Elements of Quality Online Education, Practice and Direction. Needham, MA: Sloan Center for Online Education, 13-45. https://cguevara.commons.gc.cuny.edu/files/2009/09/learning-effectiveness.pdf

The Australasian Society for Evidence-Based Teaching. (2017). Feedback: The First Secret John Hattie revealed. Retrieved http://www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au/crash-course-evidence-based-teaching/how-to-give-effective-feedback-to-your-students/

The Higher Education Academy. (2014). HEA Feedback Toolkit: March 2013. The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/feedback_toolkit_whole1.pdf

University of New South Wales. (2017). Assessment Toolkit: Giving Assessment feedback. Retrieved https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/printpdf/537

Page last updated on 27/02/2020

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